By DON STINE
The last best alternative to getting the Shark River dredged and insuring its future for the area is now at stake, officials told a standing room-only crowd at a special hearing this week.
Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone, a former Neptune City mayor, urged the crowd to be patient but at the same time said a decision has to be made on a dewatering site.
“This is it,” he said. “This is the last straw we are looking at.”
Officials are looking at dredging navigation channels in the Shark River and depositing the spoils in Neptune to dewater for up to eight months or longer.
A state Green Acres Scoping Hearing about the dewatering site is required before this type of project can move forward and it is the initial step in getting the process rolling.
The proposal calls for diverting 16 acres of Green Acres property for permanent use as a site to dewater dredge spoils from the Shark River before they are transported to a permanent dump site. The property is on the river edge at the county’s Shark River Park, off Old Corlies Avenue.
Plans call for the spoils to be taken to both the township and county landfills.
The township has 16 acres of land, near Route 66 and Jumping Brook Road, which would be swapped as part of the compensation for using the Green Acres tract.
Efforts to dredge the river have been stymied for 17 years, partially because an adequate site to dewater dredge spoils has not been approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) agency, although six other sites have been under review.
And both supporters and opponents of the project attended the meeting. But the central theme was that people wanted more information.
But panel members, that included local, county and state representatives, said that more information will only come after the scoping meeting is held, which is a DEP requirement.
“We are at the very, very beginning,” State Sen. Jennifer Beck said, pointing out that there are many other layers in the process, including extensive reviews by both the DEP and state Department of Transportation (DOT).
“My biggest fear is that there is only so much money put aside and, without a site, we will lose our shot,” she said.
Many residents questioned whether the spoils will create an odor, how and in what amounts it will be transported, and whether it has any contaminants.
Panel representatives assured the public that sediments were found to contain mostly salt and no contaminants. They also said that past dredging projects in the area have resulted in little, if any, odor.
“I can assure everyone that not a shovel of contaminated soil will ever be put on a county parcel,” Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone said.
Bill Sciarappa, a member of the Shark River Cleanup Coalition, said the entire area needs the Shark River to come back to life and that many people are concerned over very little.
“We should not make a big environmental issue where none exists,” he said.
“Neptune will not move forward if we do not feel this is a safe project,” Mayor Eric Houghtaling said.
Many residents said they just want more information.
“I came with an open mind and I understand there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered,” resident Chris Kelly said.
And Kelly said he and other residents want some answers.
“You’ve got a fight on your hands on this one and we are going to bring it on,” he said.
John Dempsey, chairman of the Shark River Beach and Yacht Club, said that property values are down after Sandy.
“There are no contaminates and we need to get this done. Nobody wants this in their backyard but it needs to be done,” he said.
Some residents said they were upset that DOT and DEP representatives were not present. Others suggested a barge be used to store the spoils or that they be dumped into the ocean.
“Ocean disposal is out of the question because there is too much silt to meet (federal) EPA standards,” Neptune Committeeman Randy Bishop said.
Others suggested the spoils be used to build an island in the river but officials said that idea was also rejected by the state.
“These are all good concerns and deserve some answers. All we want is the best thing for all of Neptune,” Arnone said.
Arnone, like Beck, told people to be patient and that this is still an early stage in the entire process- but he warned that this site is a do or die moment.
Beck said that, due to Sandy, new sources of funding are available to do these types of projects.
“If we don’t succeed this time we will be hard-pressed to get the state to pay attention again,” she said.
“This is our last best alternative to getting the river dredged,” Bishop said. “ We don’t come lightly to you with what we are looking at but the health of the river is insurmountable in this region.”
The original dredging study, conducted 10 years ago, estimated that about 1.5 million cubic yards of material would have to be removed to restore the entire river. The project was never fully funded but $1 million was being held in escrow by the DOT to help fund it, with only navigation channels receiving top priority.
However, the DOT grant money is no longer available and the scope of the project is now to remove 100,000 cubic yards of material from navigation channels only, with 70,000 cubic yards of old sediment and sand removed and 30,000 cubic yards of deposits from Superstorm Sandy.
Beck said that about $3 to $5 million in DOT funding may be available for the project.
The Shark River was last dredged in 1980 and it borders five municipalities in Monmouth County.
“What we are trying to do is help the river,” Houghtaling said.